Judging by the Salvation Army bell ringers that have been outside of Market Basket for the past two weeks, we’ve officially entered the holiday season even as we’re still recovering from one of the most contentious political seasons many of us have ever experienced. And so we’ve gathered together this evening to try and re-establish our equilibrium—to hit the “pause” button on our busyness, catch our collective breath, and avail ourselves of an opportunity to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday not only with family and friends but also with and before the God who made us. For the very definition of “thanksgiving” is “the expression of gratitude, especially to God” and to feel “gratitude,” conversely, is to have a “readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
The psalmist from our Scripture reading understands all of this as he exclaims in the first two verses, “1 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. 2 Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” The psalmist is inviting one and all not merely to state their joy but to shout their joy to the LORD; he is inviting one and all not merely to worship—not merely to revere and adore God—but to worship him with gladness. To come before him not with ordinary songs but with joyful songs.
But, realistically speaking, how do we do this in the midst of the busy-ness of our lives? How do we do this as we’re planning menus and meals? How do we do this as we perhaps remember and grieve loved ones who will not be with us this year? How do we do this in the midst of anxieties and concerns for health—for finances? How do we this as we struggle to find the time to meet all of the demands that modern life places upon us? Just how do we shout for joy to the LORD—worship him with gladness—and come before him with joyful songs when we may be feeling as though we’re barely getting by? How do we pivot from worry to gratitude?
The psalmist doesn’t leave us hanging but provides us the key to joy in verse 3: “Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his;” or, another way of translating this “It is he who made us, and not we ourselves;” “we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” The key to shouting for joy to the LORD is knowing that we are not alone—we don’t have to be alone—in this world, but were created to know that the LORD is God. We were created to know that our existence on earth isn’t the random consequence of an impersonal, dispassionate, and detached universe but that it is God who made us. He made us in his image. He made us for himself.
And the fact that God made us for himself means that we were never intended to live life alone. Individually and corporately all people—all of us—were created by God to be his people; we were created by God to be the sheep of his pasture. All of which means that we were created by him to find our life’s purpose and meaning in him. Again, God never intended for us to live our lives apart from him. He never intended for us to carry our burdens alone. His intention and design has ever been to be our shepherd—to be our pastor—to lead us in his will and his ways.
As King David makes clear in another psalm, Psalm 23, for the LORD to be our shepherd, for us to embrace the LORD as our shepherd, indicates a number of things,
It indicates that we lack nothing (1);
It indicates that he will make us lie down in green pastures and lead us beside quiet waters (2);
It indicates he will refresh our souls and guide us along right paths for his name’s sake (3);
It indicates that even though we walk through the darkest valley—the valley of the shadow of death—we need not fear any evil because God, our Shepherd, is with us; his rod and staff comfort us (4);
For God to be our Shepherd indicates that he prepares a table before us even in the presence of our enemies; he anoints our head with oil so that our cup overflows (5);
It indicates that his goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives and that we will dwell in his house not only during our earthly lives but forever (6).
But in order for us to reap the benefits of our LORD, our good Shepherd’s, presence and care, we must be intentional in acknowledging our need for him and then turn to him. The key to joy in the LORD is to turn our focus away from ourselves and towards the God in whose image we are made. The very definition of being “thankful” is to be “pleased and relieved.” Isn’t relief what we seek? Relief from our worries—our pain—our concerns—our anxiety—our sadness—perhaps even our boredom? So if we seek to be thankful, if we seek to be pleased and relieved, then we need to turn to our gracious God and give all of these concerns over to him. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, he who was not only fully human but also fully God, beckons us to do so. At the end of the eleventh chapter of Matthew’s Gospel he puts forth this invitation: 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Once we realize that God never intended us to live our lives alone—relying only our own wits and strength—but were intended to live our lives reliant upon him, then we can begin our joyful songs and shouting, for we belong to One who is far bigger and greater than we or any of our problems and concerns. In verse 4 the psalmist calls us to “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.” And he closes by reminding us of the nature of this God who made us for himself; he closes by reminding us of this God who desires to be our mighty Shepherd, comforting and guiding us as we go through the ups and downs of our sheep-like existence. The psalmist reminds us of the reason why we can ever shout for joy and offer thanks and praise: “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
We may experience hardship but we need to remember that the LORD is good;
We may undergo suffering but we need to remind ourselves and each other that God’s love can uphold us in the midst of our struggles and that his love—like he—endures forever for he is eternal so his love has no end;
We may question and turn away from God’s goodness and love, but he’ll never turn away from us—his faithfulness continues through all generations.
As we are gathered here this evening, let us thank God for this free gift of knowing him that he has given us by making us in his image and promising it to us in his Word and making such knowledge possible by his comforting and Holy Spirit. And by all means let us also thank him for the gift of our biological families—the gift of friends—the gift of this church family—the gift of health—or the gift of being comforted when we have lost our family—or of having others reach out to us when we have needed friends—or of being cared for when we have lost our health or our material possessions. But let us not forget to also thank God for that which we so often take for granted—the gift of his Son Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who came, and lived, and died, and rose again that we might not have to experience the devastating effects of the Fall alone. Let us pray to God that by his mercy he might provide us with an awareness of our sin for as Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Luke (5:31–2), “Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but the sinners to repentance.” Let us this evening turn to our great Shepherd and Physician in gratitude and thanksgiving for all that he is and all that he has sacrificed that we might never be separated from him in this life or the next.
Let us be ready to express our gratitude—to show our appreciation to our God and to return kindness in the ways in which we love and care for one another.
Let us pray….
- Matthew 11: 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
And now let us close by following the psalmist’s exhortation and shout for joy to our LORD, and worship him with gladness, as we come before him and together sing our closing joyful song—Hymn 90 “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”